Emory Report
September 4, 2007
Volume 60, Number 2

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September 4, 2007
Temple Scroll sparks panel discussion

By carol clark

Biblical temples — both real and imagined, earthly and heavenly — will be the focus of a panel talk by three renowned religion scholars at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9 in the Michael C. Carlos Museum Reception Hall. The event is free and open to the public, in conjunction with the museum exhibition “Cradle of Christianity: Jewish and Christian Treasures from the Holy Land,” continuing through Oct. 14.

The panel discussion, titled “The Temple Scroll in Context: Early Judaism and the Conflict over Sacred Space,” will center on one of the extraordinary artifacts included in the exhibit — a fragment of a Dead Sea Scroll.

The writing in the 2,000-year-old Temple Scroll remains relevant today, said Carol Newsom, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament. “Today, so many of our conflicts have to do with holy places,” she said. “We need to understand the power they exercise over us.”

Joining Newsom on the panel will be Lawrence Schiffmann, Ethel and Irvin A. Edelman Professor in Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University; and James VanderKam, James O’Brien Professor of Hebrew Scriptures at the University of Notre Dame. Each scholar will make a 30-minute presentation, followed by a discussion.

The Temple Scroll reads as a critique of temple practices at the time, and purports to be the directions God gave Moses on Mount Sinai for rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem.

The directions call for a stairway made of solid gold, 12 gates named for the 12 tribes of Israel, and dimensions that align with numerical symbolism, including those for a massive outer courtyard that would not have fit inside the mountainous area. The Temple Scroll also outlines rules for purity in the temple city of Jerusalem, such as no one can defecate within the city limits. “The directions place the latrines outside of Jerusalem, at a distance further than one is allowed to walk on the Sabbath,” Newsom said.

So why would God direct Moses to build a temple that could never be fully realized?

“One interpretation is, if you could perfect the notion of holiness, then this is what the temple and Jerusalem would be like,” Newsom said. “It serves as a kind of perpetual criticism that what we actually can create can never express holy perfection.”

From antiquity to today, sacred spaces have both brought people together in worship and sparked contention over details such as who could enter the spaces and how they should be designed and used. No matter how magnificent, “these spaces come with a sense of dissatisfaction, that they will always fall short of the divine,” Newsom said.